Birds have deep significance when it comes to symbolism; doves represent peace and hope, while the Crane – seen often in Chinese art – symbolises longevity. Feathers are often used as sacred healing tools in shamanism and the image of an eagle is one used extensively throughout many different cultures. The USA has the famous emblem of the bald eagle in front of the American flag, and the double-headed eagle can be seen in many empires such as Russia, the Roman empire, and even in Mysore, India, where it is known as the Gandaberunda. All of these eagle emblems depict strength, power and freedom, yet authority too.
Whilst Hindu deities, gods and characters do not physically exist, it is their traits and symbols which are the most important aspect to pay attention to. Each character is there to help us learn more about ourselves, and does so by representing various aspects of humanity. By learning more about Ganesha’s ability to overcome obstacles, Shiva’s power of destruction and transformation, and Vishnu’s aspects of preservation and protection, we can understand how to find these qualities within ourselves and bring them to the surface
Garudasana isn’t everyone’s favourite posture; the difficult balancing asana requires immense focus, flexibility in the hips and shoulders, and the unwavering ability to try, try and try again after falling out of it dozens of times. Garuda is a mythological bird in Hindu tradition, thought to be Vishnu’s mount or vehicle – known as a vahana. Just like the eagle, Garuda represents, strength, focus, the ability to see clearly, and is often seen with a snake in his mouth, representing devouring or destroying evil in the world.
Garuda: King of The Birds
The word Garuda, translates closely to ‘devourer’ as he is said to be dedicated to ‘devouring’ all evil on earth. The first mention of what is thought to be Garuda is in the ancient Yogic texts the Vedas, when the Sanskrit word for eagle – Syena – first appeared. This eagle is said to have brought amrita or soma – the nectar of life – from heaven to man on earth. Garuda’s birth is told of in the first part of the great epic the Mahabharata: the story goes that when Garuda hatched from his egg, he appeared as a giant inferno, the same size as the great destruction which is said to destroy the world at the end of every age. This amount of fire and power scared the gods, who pleaded with Garuda for mercy. Upon hearing how frightened the gods were, Garuda reduced his size and energy. Perhaps this is one of the first important aspects when learning about the Yoga postures – even though an asana may look simple, or to be nothing more than a physical shape, there is in fact a whole lot of energy, power and meaning within it….
As the King of The Birds, Garuda may one of the lowest forms of the devas in Buddhism; showing god-like characteristics, and being far more powerful than humans, but without the godly reverence given to those such as Shiva or Durga. Despite his somewhat lowly status though, Garuda has a few important messages for us to learn, and help us understand and develop some of his qualities for ourselves.
Too often do we diminish our own power, or misuse it, all because – as Marianne Williamson said; “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us”. Our minds in particular are incredibly powerful; our mood, stress levels, rates of anxiety and sadness all have a huge impact on the nervous system and immune system, as does happiness, joy, hope and confidence. The problem lies not in the power of the mind, but how we use it. Despite what we might think, the mind is not a bad thing, it just gets caught up in the ways of the world sometimes; it gets scared and protective, and when we let it run amok, that is when it becomes a problem. Just as Garuda used his great power to ‘devour’ evil, to transport Vishnu – the preserver of life – and help humanity move from darkness to light, we too can practice using our own power for good over evil, to help ourselves rather than cause harm.
The Sanskrit word Vidya means ‘to see clearly’, to see the truth, and to realise reality without our minds (and therefore eyes) being clouded over with prejudice, perception or opinion. It is said that when humans experience suffering, it is because we’re allowing the veil of Avidya to cloud our judgement. Avidya literally means ‘misconceptions’ or ‘ignorances’, and is that thing that makes us see the world differently to how it really is; it causes us to make snap judgements, worry incessantly, and cling to our ego instead of being our true selves.
Garuda’s ‘eagle eye’ is very symbolic for this ability to see clearly through any ignorance and misconception, and straight into the truth of each situation. When practicing the posture Garudasana, using your drishi (meaning gaze or pointed focus) and focussing on the breath can be a useful tool for bringing us out of ignorance, mind – chatter and ego, and right into reality and momentary experience. Try thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner or what your boss said to you at work, and you’ll soon find that Garudasana becomes an impossible posture to perform…